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February 8, 2001

With Columbus steering, around world in 219 ways

Daily Record staff

A few years back, when the Sons of Italy put Christopher Columbus on the courthouse steps, there was a lot of consternation that Columbus’ attachment to York was tenuous at best.

It wasn’t as if Columbus sailed up the Codorus and declared York the property of Spain, which is too bad because we could have had paella as the featured dish of our local cuisine instead of hog maw.

And then, of course, there were the historians who argued that Columbus didn’t actually discover anything, except maybe a tiny island in the West Indies, and that if the Sons of Italy were going to honor the person responsible for finding America, they should erect a statue of Leif Erikson or some of other Viking guy such as wide receiver Randy Moss.

Still, the bust of Columbus went up in 1991, and there it is.

And now, it’s on view around the world, thanks to Peter van der Krogt.

This gets a little involved.

Peter van der Krogt is a map historian, researcher and professor at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He is also a world-renowned expert on globes and a member of the board of the Washington Map Society, a society of map historians and collectors.

And that’s how he found out about York’s Columbus.

There’s more to the Columbus thing than that.

Van der Krogt became interested in statues of Columbus during a New England vacation in 1998 when he stumbled across a statue of the explorer holding a globe in Newport, R.I. He thought it was weird that Newport would have a statue of Columbus. Columbus never set foot in Rhode Island, or New England for that matter.

He kept seeing statues of Columbus in his travels. He’d take photos of them, and that was about it.

Then, in 1999, he was visiting Spain when he took a side trip to Madrigal de las Altas Torres, a desolate little town on a hilltop in the high plains of central Spain. On the square was an old monastery. Next to the gate was a plaque commemorating it as the birthplace of Queen Isabella, who, if you’ll recall from third-grade history class, sent Columbus sailing across the ocean blue.

Nothing weird about that, except this. The plaque had been put in place in honor of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage. The group that installed the plaque: The Bexar County Historical Commission of San Antonio, Texas.

Think about that. A historical commission from Texas put up this plaque in Spain to mark the birthplace of Queen Isabella in honor of the anniversary of Columbus’ sailing across the ocean and discovering, not Texas, but the West Indies, which Columbus thought was India anyway because that’s what he was looking for.

Van der Krogt said he figured he might as well do something about this phenomena. So he started up a Web site (cartography.geog.uu.nl/columbus/) that lists every Columbus memorial in the world.

He’s found a statue of Columbus in St. Louis that has a beard even though there was no evidence that Columbus ever sported whiskers. He’s found a statue of Columbus standing over a scantily clad Indian maiden that was removed from the U.S. Capitol in 1958 in storage at the Smithsonian. He’s found a headless Columbus in the Philippines that was beheaded by rebels during the Spanish-American War and remains headless to this day. (Why there would be a monument to Columbus in east Asia is beyond van der Krogt.)

So far, he’s documented 219 monuments to Columbus around the world.

Including the one in York.

He found out about the York Columbus from Dr. John Docktor, a local ear, nose and throat specialist who is also a map collector and on the board of the Washington Map Society.

Dr. Docktor — I just like saying Dr. Docktor — told van der Krogt about the York Columbus and last October, during a trip from Washington to Montreal, van der Krogt stopped in York and memorialized the York Columbus.

And it has joined the pantheon of other Columbuses (Columbi?) on van der Krogt’s Web site.

“I think he is the person honored with the most monuments (and most widely spread over the world),” van der Krogt said via e-mail.

The professor thinks that maybe there were more statues of Lenin erected in the Soviet Union and its satellites.

“But (Lenin’s) monuments were in a special group of countries,” van der Krogt said, “and a lot of his statues are gone now.”

You can’t say that about Columbus.

Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Thursdays in the Living section and Saturdays on the editorial page. He can be reached at mike@ydr.com

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